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Monday, December 04, 2006

Rabbi Wachsman

Well, I must admit that I am impressed.

I do not know whether Rabbi Wachsman read my letter to him, or the other blog comments about him, but his tone was universally recognized to be drastically different from what we have seen from him in the past.

His speech, in my prior words, was 'tightly reasoned' in its logic (not necessarily saying I can at this point agree with all of it), which still leaves me somewhat awed at the change in style when contrasted with his past appearances.

I also sincerely want to compliment Mesivta Torah Vodaath for teaching Rav Wachman an excellent English, and imbuing him with the desire to (his own words) read about Einstein in the Bais Hakovod. Kein Yirbu.

Here are some points made at the convention by Rabbi Wachsman:

  • We do not properly appreciate Gedolei Yisroel
  • We are incapable of directly learning the Torah of previous generations without a contemporary interpreter, in other mesorah ( A rishon without mesorah is 'irrelevant')
  • We cannot use an individual Godol's opinion to overturn the mass of opinions of Gedolei Yisroel
  • Anyone can make himself look like a Talmid Chacham on a blog, but it takes a Talmid Chacham , and only a Talmid Chacham, to know one

Some of these opinions are obviously controversial (particularly the middle two). The manner in which they were expressed was also unbending. They were all at one end of the spectrum of opinion, not the middle. (Example: Rav Wachsman stated Gedolim are possessed of "flawless logic"(sic), for example. I didn't think that sort of phraseology applied to mortal man.) Nevertheless, they were made with intent to persuade, and persuade they did.

Rabbi Wachsman used the famous Sherut L'umi issue of the 1950's to illustrate necessary obeisance to Gedolim (paraphrased):

After what was viewed as a historic compromise allowing community service for girls in place of army service, the Chazon Ish torpedoed the compromise by paskening 'yeharog v'lo ya'avur' to Sherut L'umi. When asked by a Rov where it says that a person should let himself be killed for something which is apparently not one of the three cardinal sins, the Chazon Ish opened his over-garment, exposing the shirt over his heart and said "(it says it) here".

Okay, it's strong stuff. But Rav Wachsman was obviously attempting to explicate and explain, not bulldoze, a change in tone for him. And we free wheeling bloggers and readers should be able to handle logic even when it is not what we want to hear, right?

So what's Leapa's take?

  1. Yes, it is halachically required to respect everyone, even more so Rabbonim, Talmidei Chachamim, and Gedolim. I, for one, will try harder.
  2. While mesora is undoubtedly important, I cannot accept, that we cannot learn Rambam, for example, directly without it being filtered through Reb Chaim Brisker and Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Aharon's einiklach. Rav Wachsman, you said we cannot understand and emulate a Godol of 60 or 70 years ago. Well, Rav Aharon, your prime example of a contemporary godol, is almost there !! Moreover, your proof from Choni Hamagil, that he asked for his life to be taken because he could not communicate with the third generation downstream, seems a tzurich iyun. Your conclusion will certainly lead to less Torah learned, if we cannot learn a blatt gemora or a Rishon without learning it through R Boruch Ber on the sugya. And Rav Wachsman, not everyone has the opportunity in life for a Rebbe Muvhak. Moreover, you know that there are contemporary Gedolim familiar with the same proofs you bring who have completely abolished shiurim for older bochurim, in the belief that they will have more success on their own.
  3. Much of klal yisroel follows individual Gedolim and not the majority, and almost everyone does sometimes. We are not a religion or a people which takes polls to follow a majority, even of Gedolim. Do you feel all these yiden (almost none of whom are bloggers) are wrong? Furthermore, you propose that klal Yisroel has always followed the Gedolim 'elected' by other Gedolim. Is that historically accurate? How about the Baal Shem Tov, for example?
  4. You are right about technology enabling one to look better than he is in Torah, but some talmidei chachamim have also grown in isolation from Gedolim for many years of their careers. Maybe even most. (The Chazon Ish is not a bad example.) Maybe a blogger (to my sorrow, not me) will be the next Godol to appear. As the NY Lottery ad says, you never know.
It seemed to me that the examples of Piskei Gedolim Rabbi Wachsman selected were all taken from periods of eis laasos, during or after historic upheavals when there was not time or opportunity to reason, or where the situation dictated urgent action.

Overall, I echo Hirhurim in my compliments to Agudath Israel of America for airing an important and controversial topic. I feel it could have been handled more positively, with concrete proposals.

Nevertheless, I feel it was an honest effort.

My comments on Rabbi Zwiebel and Rav Solomon to follow.

To hear R' Wachsman's speech: Call (718)906-6400 press 1 for english, 8 for Special Topics, 5 for Agudas Yisroel, 1 for convention, and 7 for Rabbi Wachsman.


Anonymous deerson said...

Rav Wachsman is totally immersed in his mission of Tzrachai HaRabim where as this blog is basically for entertainment. this critical difference, the sense of achrayos changes one's perspective immensely. this blog should not be an excersice in "fantasy gedolim" where we let our imagination go and dream of our vision if we were the gedolim.
i saw nothing really controversial in Rav Wachsman's statement pretty much the conventional wisdom of today's Yeshivshe Veldt. However Leapa i did find your crtique pandering to catchy lines, sort of a shockblog if you will. And i quote "We are not a people who pander to a majority even Gedolim." This is a throw away line for the Gedolim bashers. The line reeks of a populist sentiment that does not belong within the confines of a discussion of Daas Torah which obviously must be set within the parameters of Halachic decisions. The general rule in Halacha is the majority rules. Now which majority is another question but on the contrary this is a religion based upon the majority's desicion in the world of halacha. when discussing Daas Torah there is no other world.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

OK, I changed the word 'pander'. Sorry.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Avi Block said...

I grew up modern orthodox and became "chareidi" later on in life because I thought modern orthodoxy was completely off base...
Every day leads me to conclude that chareidi judaism is either not much better of worse.
Hashkafos like Rabbi Wachsman's seem to signal the end of Judaism. I sincerely hope other chareidim do not think like him.
His "proof" from choni ham'agel is completely flawed in its logic. (Event though the maharsha answers his question, according to him, I don't understand the maharsha's answer).
If I can't understand the gemara, rishonim or achronim without going through an intermediary, I'm supposed to go through someone like Rabbi Wachsman who makes flawed logical arguments?
What is the point of learning if I can't always ask the nearby godol to tell me what's going on?
How could reb chaim brisker have been so brazen to give pshatim in the rambam if he lived such a long time after the rambam.
Rabbi Wachsman points are not just controversial, but are just plain wrong.
I have no intention of bashing gedolim, but if this is way they think, I don't know what to do.

12:31 PM  
Blogger TheProf said...

It seems to me that everybody here, the author and the comments, are missing something very important. That mesora and only pure mesora, handed down by competent talmidei chachomim, has been the mainstay vehicle of our survival as a nation. Competent tamidei chachomim generally ahs meant talimdim who have had a strong shimush under an older godol b'torah, thus mesora. And only if we look at these prior generation chachomim as "im rishonim k'malochim" can we truly accept their daas torah. And if we look at them as being "just" as human as we are, then chazal has given us an epithet, behaima. We have a current generation of baalei batim who have decided that giving a really good daf yomi shiur every day gives them the right to have a new-fangled concept called "daas baal habayis". I think the gemora in sanhedrin calls this "shlosha roei bokor". And these very choshuva baalei batim talmidei chachomim daas baal habayis really think that they can argue with and gainsay the real daas torah. The concept of a baal habos, no matter how learned, having the right to counter the daas torah of a talmid chochom, not only is mamish keneged mesora, but is also slightly heretical, being the underlying foundation to Louie Finkelstein and Abie Heshel's version of Judaism. They too felt that they were "gedolim" enogh to counter Reb Chaim Brisker. If Reb Chaim came so many generations after the Rambam and had a right to explain the Rambam, then why couldn't the Jewish Theological Seminary "Rah"bonim do the same? Albeit kinda destructive. Careful guys, you are treading on thin ice and walking a very fine line. Chazal call Satan a thin hair because often the difference between mesora and farkert is only a thin hair.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous avi block said...

theprof...you haven't addressed any of the issues that I raised in my post.
For centuries we've had two masorahs, a mimetic tradition and a textual tradition. After world war II the textual tradition has come more in the forefront...We're not talking about going against "da'as torah"...we're talking about how to paskin halacha. Mishne Brurah felt that his sefer was not meant for psak because he intended it only for those who could not look up the original sources and identify the halacha by themselves. Implication, if I know how to learn gemarah, rishonim, achronim and poskim, I can, for the most part, decide a shailah in orach chaim or yoreh deah.
According to Rabbi Wachsman, looking up these sources will not get me anywhere, because I can't understand them without asking him first.
The achronim for generation have been giving pshatim in rishonim on there own, without just copying what somebody said first.
To me the fact that somebody makes a flawed argument to prove a point demonstrates that the point is not valid.
Rabbi Wachsman has no source for his statement, and seems to be making up his own masorah, not copying the real one.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Leapa said...

I think the role of the mesorah , not it's importance, is part of the question here.

Is learning a Rambam 'straight' in our generation a violation of the mesorah, or irrelevant? ( Many do this. We are not Rabbonim paskening from the Rambam here. We all agree on that. But the learning can sensitize us to a shaala besides giving us invaluable insight which comes from an original text.)

Is cogitating and speculating about the Rambam or any other Rishon's opinion about various issues, and attempting to draw conclusions (not in halacha l'maase) a violation of the mesorah?

Rav Wachsman would imply that it is. I would venture that it takes away a chunk of Torah for the rest of us.

I don't think that anyone would accept a blogger over R' Moshe in halacha l'maase, or that we have to be worried about some shmoyger who might do this to the extent that we can't learn and discuss it.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous deerson said...

you are confusing two points and seeing them as one. style of learning is not the same as following a certain Haskafas HaChaim from a Rebbe.

11:27 PM  
Anonymous avi block said...

deerson: Rabbi Wachsman's proof was that the rabbi's couldn't understand his torah (besides the fact that this is contradicted by the maharsha).
Also his point was that we can't understand the words of the previous gedolim...what difference does it make if I can't understand words of hashkafa or words of torah?
Also who says that I can't read works of maimonidies or yehuda halevi, or albo or sa'adia goan, or shimshon refael hirsch and not understand what they are talking about?

7:24 AM  
Anonymous deerson said...


what are you so hung up about what Rav Wachsman says in a drasha that was not meant for the Bais Medrash but for the HaMone Am. This is not Catholicsm there is no official catechism dictating a religious norm. common sense is very uncommon these days. The Gedolim are our guides and mentors for us to grow. use to them for your own spiritual edification.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Cyrk said...

Hold your horses, deerie!

Are you saying that a man "totally immersed in his mission of Tzorchai HaRabbim" speaks imprecisely or 'talks down' to those not his level ('hamon am')?

12:17 PM  
Anonymous deerson said...

there is a difference between a shiur and a speech at an agudah convention. and yes every good speaker knows how to tailor his drasha it goes with the territory.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Avi Block said...

So what do you declare is rabbi wachsman's position on the matter?
What would he say to the people of the 'bais medrash' instead of the 'hamon am' at the agudah convention?

8:56 PM  
Anonymous deerson said...

i have no idea what Rav Waschsman would say. thats the whole point, why make conjectures and run to conclusions. lets grant you have good question based on a maharsha. it won't be the first time a good question was asked on a pshat and presumably it won't be the last. no one ever died from a good question. its time to move on.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wachsman is just part of this egomanical shameless group who evrytime they get up to speak have the same topic "listen and respect me because im great"
imagine if a non religious figure gave such a speach

1:11 AM  

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